Monday, 15 December 2008

Wooden stocking - £2.95!!

Isn't this gorgeous? I think it is. It's a flat wooden stocking - quite large, 40cm - from Maileg, with a little of their stripey red ribbon to hang it by. I ordered loads of these because I thought they were so different and lovely, but I've only sold a few so have put them into the sale which means they are now only £2.95. A bargain!

Every Christmas there is one item I over-order - last year it was the Maileg pigs. I had pigs all over the place until the summer. Although as my boyfriend pointed out, this year's 'mistake' is rather more unforgiving - after all there isn't going to much call for wooden stockings after the 25th!

I have a feeling my own home is going to be covered in them this Christmas... not to worry!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Cottages for sale

Okay, this is seriously 'blow the budget' stuff, but after months of deliberation I have finally introduced a couple of play houses to the website. These are really - really! - lovely, and hand crafted to order so customers can specify their own details - thatched roof, stable door, window boxes and so on. They are so expensive that I am blushing, but then again, consider the many days work that goes in to creating them. I'll whisper this bit... £3500.. sshhhh!

But I think they're lovely and if I had children (and a healthy bank balance) I wouldn't think twice. In fact I would love to buy one for the bunnies... but that does seem a tad extravagant, especially considering all they'd really want to do is nibble it!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Nutty Christmas Window

Mum put together a Christmas window display yesterday - and hid a monkey nut in it! There is a competition in Pershore where all the shops hide a mystery object in their windows (it can be anything, just something that 'doesn't belong') and this year I thought a monkey nut would be good - something slightly festive but devilishly small! I have seen several people peering in the window today searching for the 'something' - not sure if they spotted it or not. To make things harder mum has half tucked it inside a bunny's shoe. If you zoom in on the picture and peer very closely at the bunnies sitting on the fireplace you might be able to spot it...

I had a brief wander around town and had a look at some other shops earlier and so far I have spotted a sprout in Three Little Pigs gift shop, a nail file in Top Drawer lingerie and a key in Coach House Books. I'll keep looking... there's a £25 voucher up for grabs!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

It isn't all a mess though!

Here is part of our nice festive display. My favourite thing is the Maileg angel princess on the tree.

Today I need to enter the 'Christmas mystery window competition' in the town - the idea is to hide something that doesn't belong somewhere in my window display. I am thinking maybe a monkey nut..?

Christmas chaos...

Christmas chaos is well and truly upon us. My laptop is bleeping every few minutes with orders, the phone does not stop ringing and we have just had a pallet of toys from France. The pictures say it all I think!

The shop itself is painfully quiet - you would hardly know it was Christmas - but maybe that's not a bad thing given that we are are rushed off our feet online, and - as you can see from the photos - there isn't exactly a lot of room for customers anyway!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Mouse House Refurbishment

The Maileg mouse houses are gorgeous aren't they? But just to complicate things, Maileg have gone and changed their design three weeks before Christmas. Grrr! The house itself has changed a little in that it has a new - and vastly improved - roof. Before it was a thin kind of ply wood... now it is lovely chunky wood. (Still with 'cheese hole' in!) But the real change is inside. Here are the before and after contents:

Mouse house before:
-bed & bedding
-cotton reel table

Mouse house now:
-cotton reel table
-two stools
-cloth rug
-two cups

So you see, crucially, there is now no mouse! I think the reasoning behind this is that Maileg are now selling mice in matchbox beds as separate items - but the trouble is that the UK distributors have run out of these until after Christmas. Grrr again!

I am trying to get some little baby Nini mice from Moulin Roty for next week - they would be just as happy inside the Mouse House I'm sure!

And the good news is that the new house is only £32. Hurrah!

Ragley Hall

Every so often, in a fit of misguided enthusiasm, I find myself agreeing to take part in a gift fair... Typically this involves taking some stock along to an organised 'shopping event' - usually held in a public hall or country house - setting up a little stand and selling things. That's the idea anyway. The reality is that these events are never, ever worthwhile for me and I usually make a loss.

Well, it's been a while since the last one and the memory of standing for hours on end, smiling benignly at people wandering by, had faded sufficiently for me to agree to take part in a fair at Ragley Hall this weekend just gone. And guess what...? It was a disaster! Oh, it was a nice enough set up - lovely location, lots of nice stands and actually quite a lot of people. But nobody ever seems to buy anything from me! I have no idea where I go wrong, and can only think that it's a confidence thing... I'm not very good at 'selling' things, absolutely hate the idea of pushing things onto people... so I just stand there smiling!

Ah well, maybe I'll learn my lesson this time and say no to the next one! One good thing to come out of it was that I came across some lovely vintage style jewellery handmade by a lady in Coventry. I treated myself to a ring for £10 - and in doing so pretty much spent the weekend's profit in one go! Have a look at her website at

Friday, 21 November 2008

Funny furry place names

I have been meaning to write about this for ages...

You know I am mad about bunnies? Well imagine my delight when I had an order a few weeks ago from a lady who lives in Bunny Hall, Bunny. Yes really! There is a place called bunny! It is in Nottinghamshire somewhere... I must go and see it one day. And then not long ago - also on the theme of furry place names - I received an order from Hamsterley Hall, Hamsterley Mill. Delightful!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Where to start...?

Oh dear it's always hard to know where to start when I've been 'away' for a while - another serious case of Blog Neglect I'm afraid. Delighted to find a couple of comments on my last entry though - and to have received a few emails from customers mentioning the blog, I was beginning to wonder if anyone read it at all really!

I am feeling a bit snowed under at work again... so much to do and I never, ever seem to get on top of things. Paperwork? Well, that's just a distant memory... But a girlfriend is coming over tonight to help me try and catch up.

We have had lots more stock in from Maileg - more Christmas bunnies and Christmas decorations. We did have some lovely fabric advent calendars but they've sold out already - which is a good thing I suppose, wouldn't want to have any left once December is underway.

Also had some lovely play kitchen things in from Moulin Roty - little pots and pans - and a mini milk churn! Really sweet. I'll pop a picture of one on to this post...

Monday, 27 October 2008

Monday morning

Feeling so much better after a day off, and so glad it's not a week ago. Nice to be sitting in a (relatively) finished shop rather than lugging furniture around to make space for carpet cleaning.

Today I have a long 'to do' list, starting with proof reading some price lists to send out with Moulin Roty catalogues. I have literally hundreds of outstanding catalogue requests - and I apologise if yours is one of them - but I am hanging fire until the price list is printed. Makes much more sense to include a price list rather than invite people to call for prices. It's one of those jobs I've been meaning to do for about a year now. Mind you, it's costing hundreds of pounds to get them printed so I hope it will be worthwhile...

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Day ? - lost count

Looking back, my last entry was Tuesday, so quite a lot to catch up on...

Tuesday was a big day given that we were reopening on Wednesday, and there was a final Big Push late into the night. I'd like to say we were working on the finishing touches, but in reality we were miles away from the finishing touches phase. We were still on the essentials: a doorway clear enough to walk through and stock on the shelves... Tuesday evening none of these things were in place and anyone trying to shop at Cottontails would have had to fight their way through a heap of discarded shelving and power tools only to sort through box after box of disorganised, unpriced toys and clothes. They might even have had to rummage through my car given how much stock was still in transit from home to shop!

However, I worked late - very late - and it's amazing how things come together when you keep plodding on. We were able to open the door at 10am on Wednesday and feel quite proud of what we had achived. Things weren't quite finished but without doubt the shop was a far, far lighter, brighter and happier place. It feels fun. It feels sort of festive. In fact, it feels the way I have always wanted my shop to feel. I am very happy.

Even today - Saturday - there are still things that need finishing - the odd shelf that hasn't been filled, the open / closed bunny sign in my handbag awaiting fresh lettering, and I don't know what became of our new mat-well. But we are 90% there now, and have been able to trade perfectly well for the last four days. In fact it's been busy and lively in the shop and that's a really promising sign.

The reopening hasn't been without its trials though - it's been one hell of a job catching up, and on Wednesday morning - five minutes after we opened - we took delivery of a 6' high pallet of toys from Moulin Roty. I could have wept. The last thing I wanted was to have to pile box after box on to my nice new shop floor, let alone deal with the many customer orders the delivery contained. I wanted to skip around tweaking things, not battle with cardboard, bubblewrap and parcel tape. Mind you, such was my determination to clear the shop floor that I don't think we have ever unpacked an order with such speed!

Oh, and just one more thing before I head off for a much deserved day off: remember the lovely clean and sparkly carpet? A little boy weed on it on Thursday!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

In a rush...

Lots of to and fro home and shop this morning, removing rubbish, returning display equipment. My sitting room looks worse than ever as I am frantically creating 'keep', 'throw away', 'don't know' piles. Shop is looking nice though and that's the main thing.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Day two... the end is in sight

So busy this evening that I forgot to take my camera to the shop, so no pics I'm afraid. It's looking good though. The carpet is great and I'm just so relieved I spent £70 on a professional clean rather than £500 on a new carpet. The new counter is fantastic and was such a bargain - I bought it from Diamond Shop Displays on eBay, it was just £150 and comes as a pre-assembled, unfinished MDF thing. My boyfriend collected it for me this afternoon (thank you, thank you) and my mum and I spent a good three hours painting it this evening. We've never had a counter before. I feel like a Proper Shopkeeper now! I'll upload the photo from eBay.

This evening dad started work on the shelving and things are really starting to take shape. It has been really nice to chat to mum and dad while we are painting and so on... it's not often we get time together like this and it's been good to natter.

Dad is leaving work at lunchtime tomorrow to come and finish up the practical stuff, then mum and I will take over with all the display and merchandising. Oh and there's the till, card machine, franking machine, printer and phone to network. Yikes.

Half way through day two..

Just nipped home for a spot of lunch and to pack up a few customer orders in my sitting room (trying hard to maintain service as normal with online orders). So far today the carpet has been professionally cleaned and looks GREAT. Big thank you to Martin at Express Cleaning! Sadly our new mat-well thing has been delayed til the end of the week, but this is hardly a disaster. New hanging tents from Win Green have arrived which is super timing as father can hang one this evening ( - in between putting up shelves and building a packing station in the stock room!).

Currently my boyfriend is driving up to Northampton to collect our new counter, and my mother is driving back and forth with clothes rails which my father constructed at home. So it's all go.

Shop re-fit: day one

Everything seems to be going well so far... Closed early on Saturday and spent about six hours emptying the shop (into my house - you should see the sorry state of my sitting room...) and then the serious work began early Sunday morning. Mike Grovsenor (fantastic electrician from Worcester who gave up his Sunday to fit this job in) arrived at 8.30am with his workmate Ian, and by 1pm everything was done and we have a lovely lighter, brighter shop. It was an absolute joy to employ a professional - working as I always am on a meager budget, I tend to err toward DIY and am blessed with an extraordinarily practical, talented and helpful father, but obviously with electrics in a public space DIY wasn't an option and, as I say, it was just wonderful to hand over the responsibilty to someone else and not try to muddle through myself.

The afternoon was spent painting everything in sight, and by the end of day everything looks fresh, light and new. My father has done a wonderful job of the shop front and I am very happy so far!

Came home exhausted about 9pm, fought my way through the sitting room and fell into bed. Then up early this morning for Day Two and to meet the carpet cleaner at 8am...

Friday, 10 October 2008

Pixies are on the move

We have sold our first Maileg Christmas pixie! I'm so pleased - I was surveying the mountain of pixies this morning and fretting a bit that I have over ordered, so it was really nice to have a sale today - especially as I haven't even unpacked them yet.

The happy new pixie owner is a lovely customer who came in to buy one of our Sevi wooden letters - the letter E - and left with two giant pixies, one giant bunny, two Maileg geese, a pair of slippers and two cards - and the letter E. She plans to sit the pixies around the table for Christmas lunch this year - what a magical thing for her little granddaughter.

Re-fit confirmed!

Friday morning and I am feeling a bit calmer than yesterday... not too many sales overnight (which I am oddly pleased about, as it means less packing to do - not the right attitude at all of course) and so far today only one box has been delivered (Daisy Roots baby shoes.. really must get them on the website.).

I have been pondering and planning the re-fit of the high street shop and decided it definitely needs to be done... So, along with the carpet cleaning man (who is also going to fit a lovely new mat-well thing for us - essential in a shop trying to handle constant flow of pram wheels) I have now booked in an electrician to re-do all the lighting. This is all scheduled to start next weekend so I think I'll close early on Saturday the 18th, empty the shop and stock room over night, lighting going in the next day, along with lots of painting and decorating, then carpet cleaning, then new fixtures and re-dressing the shop. Same for the stock room. Hopefully re-open on the Wednesday.

Am quite excited! The shop has been much the same for five years so it really will be lovely to refresh everything..

Better get along with putting some new Maileg stock on the website... no photography yet but I can make a start on the descriptions and so on.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Later that day...

Well I've made a start on the boxes (which, loosely translated, means that the boxes themselves have gone, only to be replaced by a gigantic heap of toys!) and I have started adding a few bits to the website - I haven't added anything new yet (need to get the photography done first) but there's some re-appearances of things we've been out of for a long while - some giant bunnies, some medium bunnies, the Maileg goose, and - most exciting of all - Magnus the Rat!

For those eagerly awaiting new products a quick glance at 'the heap' and I can see LOTS of pixies (baby up to enormous) various Christmas toys and decorations and some adorable 'matchbox mice'.

Regarding the need to close and re-organise: this is becoming more critical by the moment. I can hardly function in the chaos. I have provisionally booked a professional carpet cleaner for the 21st and the next step is to talk to my dad about building some new fittings. Initial thoughts are to close for the first part of w/c 20th October.

Time to head home and pick up my car now - need to transport 'the heap' to my home office / studio where I can get on with some product photography.

Busyness and Boxes...

I think I wrote my last entry about a month ago, at which time I decided that I really must write more often. Oh dear.

Well, in my defense it's been a crazy month.. Things are getting on top of me a bit at the moment and it has been as much as I can do to keep up with customer orders and emails, never mind all the other bits and pieces. Ho hum.

Anyway - things just got worse today! As I walked to work this morning, little did I know there would be a mountain of boxes waiting for me in the alley next to the shop... The Maileg Christmas stock has arrived (a good couple of weeks earlier than anticipated..!)

I know there are lots of goodies in there, and part of me cannot wait to start unpacking, but another bit of me is despairing because I'm not ready and don't have the time or space. You can see in the photo how desperate the space situation is!

I am seriously considering closing the shop for a day or two to try and get back on track. I've been wanting to rearrange things for some time now, reorganise the stock room, get some new fixtures, have the carpet cleaned, oh lots of things.. and I think now might be the time, if only to preserve my sanity! It really would be a dream to empty everything out and start afresh. I'm going to make a decision today so watch this space...

...And watch the website for the arrival of new Maileg things!

Friday, 12 September 2008

Emile et Rose

One of the reasons my posts have been a bit sporadic is that I've been so busy unpacking new season clothes in the shop. I think our favourite collection this year comes from Emile et Rose (if you don't already know the brand it is a classic nursery collection - pastel colours, soft fabrics, very gentle in every sense). Historically we seem to sell clothes in the shop and toys online - so in an attempt to mix things up a bit I have put the entire Emile et Rose collection on the website! Have a look...

Dear me...

... it's been far too long since I last wrote an entry here. It's been a busy few weeks with one or two things in my personal life taking up a lot of time, and then a holiday in France a couple of weeks ago. Holidays from the shop are always lovely, but then again it takes me weeks to catch up when I get home!

The holiday was super. I adore France - one of the reasons I love to sell French toys. I went with my boyfriend Mike and his daughter, Isobel. We spent most of the time in the South, near the Spanish border, then a few days driving up through France staying in little b&bs I found on the wonderful Alastair Sawday website.

My mother was a complete star while I was away, running the high street shop and packing up all the mail orders which I continued to manage from France. All in all it went quite smoothly.

On the subject of France, a lot of places close down during August over there, and Moulin Roty - one of our main toy suppliers - is one of them. As such I'm afraid we're very low on stock at Cottontails while I wait for them to catch up and start sending orders again.

Here is a picture of my mother holding the fort in the stock room... Humphrey is helping out too!

Friday, 8 August 2008

Cottontails is five today!

It is five years to the day since Cottontails opened! I have had so many parcels to send out today - not to mention customers in the shop - that I haven't really found time to celebrate. But I did manage to make a sort of birthday cake by customising a yummy carrot and orange cake with some chocolate buttons and five candles. I even took a picture (and nearly set fire on myself in the process!)

Remember the elephant comforter..?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the lost elephant comforter and the couple in the US who moved heaven and earth to obtain a replacement as quickly a possible. Well, today I was delighted to receive a follow-up email. Marie, the mother, wrote to tell me that her little girl, Clemence, was ever so pleased to see her elephant again, and didn't mind one bit that he was a bit cleaner and newer than the one she used to have. You can see how much she loves him in this photo - and apparently he tastes quite nice too! A very happy ending.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Salesman Mouse!

I've been chatting to a customer, Val Heslin, who bought a couple of Maileg toys from Cottontails this week and she has been telling me how she is using one of the toys as a mascot for her business... She makes cushions and other fabric home accessories from Vanessa Arbithnot fabrics and the little Maileg mouse is now featuring in much of her product photography!

Friday, 25 July 2008

The Tale of the Elephant Comforters

I think that maybe, every Friday, I will review my week at work and pick one thing that has happened to write about.

So... This week I could write about all the baby boy clothes that seem to have been shoplifted, sigh, or about our new Peter Rabbit clothing delivery. But no, I think I'll write The Tale of the Elephant Comforters.

One evening during the week I received an online order for a couple of Moulin Roty elephant comforters from a customer in the US. Along with the order was an email pleading for speedy delivery - her little girl had lost her favourite comforter and simply couldn't sleep without him. I emailed right back and assured her I would send them out by airmail the very next day, but overnight I received another email saying to hang fire and that she would call me at noon the next day to discuss other, faster options.

The next day. Noon arrived and the lady's husband telephoned to say that a FedEx priority collection had been arranged and to expect a courier within an hour. Less than five minutes later - yes, five minutes - and in walked a friendly but brisk FedEx agent, armed with paperwork, packaging and an impressive understanding of the situation. She informed me that the parcel would be on a plane by 5pm and delivered to the little girl the very next day. I signed a few forms, handed over the elephants and off she went with a great sense of urgency. I half expected her to break into a run.

Well, I didn't hear anymore so I am assuming that the elephants made it to their destination on time and that the little girl has been reunited with her favourite toy, but the whole thing has made quite an impression on me. From the parents so keen for a quick delivery that they were quite prepared to spend well over £50 in the process, to the most outstanding delivery service I think I have ever encountered. Less than 24 hours door to door from Pershore, Worcestershire to Savannah, Georgia. Not bad. Especially when compared to the usual experience - vague delivery times, disinterested depot managers, no guarantees and parcels disappearing into the ether for days at a time - and that's just the 30 miles over to Hereford.

So, well done FedEx, thank you to my elephant comforter customers, and a message for mum and dads everywhere - if your little one has a toy that they just cannot live without, get a back up!

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Humphrey checks out the Maileg tin...

As promised here is a pic of Humphrey enjoying a little snack from his new 'biscuit tin', courtesy of Maileg. Humphrey is one of my three bunnies. He is a little lion head - hence the ruff around his neck. He has been a bit poorly for a couple of days so it was great to see him tucking into some tasty salad!

I am starting to think I might make this a bit of a bunny blog along with the shop things. They are both huge passions of mine. Humphrey even comes into work sometimes and hops around the shop. Not normally in the summer months though as I usually have the door open and, as well behaved as he is, I don't think I could trust him not to head out on to the high street. (Probably in the direction of the green grocers down the road!)

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

.. and Maileg for mum too!

Also, in a bit of a departure from Maileg's core range we have a small selection of children's clothes (underwear and PJs) and - very exciting, this - something for mums... It is a set of pretty tin kitchen caddies. Really they are meant for storing sugar, tea and coffee but I'm using mine (yes I've already pilfered a set!) for storing food and treats for my bunnies. If I remember this evening I will take a photo of one of my bunnies checking out their new 'biscuit tins'.

New Maileg goodies for little ones...

I have taken delivery of some lovely new toys from Maileg, including new bunny furniture (wardrobe, bench, changing table, pram) and some new fabric bunnies, giraffes and knitted toys too. It's hard to choose but I think my favourite is this little 'newborn' bunny rattle. She is holding a little knitted jingle ball that makes a really sweet noise when you give her a shake. There are blue and lemon 'newborns' too.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Emile et Rose is here

I have just taken delivery of six enormous boxes of Emile et Rose baby clothes, it is the first part of their Autumn / Winter collection. Rather alarmingly there is more to come next month. I ordered all this stuff back in January. What was I thinking?! I have snapped the boxes sitting on the shop floor awaiting my attention. The mug resting on the top contains a nice strong cup of coffee - I'm going to need the energy!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

ps New Maileg just in!

I'll write more on this shortly but I've just taken delivery of a load of gorgeous new Maileg toys. And the Autumn / Winter Emile et Rose collection is due in tomorrow, so there will be a lot of new stock on the website very soon.(And a lot of large boxes on the shop floor in the meantime...)

We have a lovely new fixture

Probably not terribly exciting for anyone else but I am very happy because we have a new display fixture in the shop. It is a lovely white unit from Moulin Roty. I have put it right in the middle of the shop, where I used to have a table, and it makes the shop feel a lot lighter. There is more floor space for customers with prams too - hardly a bad thing in a baby shop!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

A bit of background...

As a novice 'blogger' I thought I should write a bit of background on Cottontails, and explain quite why I am here, sending diary entries out into the ether...

I opened Cottontails nearly five years ago - it is our fifth birthday on the eighth of August. It is a small but quaint shop on Pershore high street, and we sell a mixture of clothes, toys and gifts for babies and toddlers up to two years old.

The shop has evolved over the years. We used to stock clothes for children up to four years old. Then six years. And now we're down to two years. It's trial and error really. The things we sell are quite lovely and special - oh don't get me wrong, we don't do ludicrously expensive designer brands - but we definitely appeal more to people buying presents and treats for newborns and little ones.

When I say 'we' I mean me and my mum, Mary. We run the shop together, and it actually works quite well. It's my shop so I have some authority. But she's my mum so she has some authority too!

About three years ago we launched the website and this has done quite well, overtaking the shop in terms of sales. The website is a bit different to the shop because rather than the clothes, we focus on our lovely toy brands - Maileg and Moulin Roty in particular. This is something I want to develop in the high street shop too.

So, you can see that things never stand still here, we are always moving in one direction or another, which is, I suppose, why I thought this blog might be a good idea - as a communication channel to our customers as life at Cottontails evolves..!